The two main sources of heat readily available in British Columbia are natural gas and electricity. In rural areas and older homes wood heat is the primary source for warmth, but for many people that’s not an option because of the high retrofitting costs. Plus, there’s always the increased insurance rates.
Comparing natural gas and electricity is useful because you can replace one furnace with another (or put in a dual source furnace) when your old furnace dies.
In terms of reliability, both sources are very good — although gas is probably slightly more reliable. Power outages do take place on occasion but gas outages are extremely rare even when an explosion takes place on one of the the main lines (see picture above). The reason that electricity is slightly less reliable is that it runs above ground, making it vulnerable to extreme weather events on occasion.
Utility bills are so convoluted that you almost need a mathematics degree to do a proper comparison.
Here is what my latest gas bill looks like.
Notice that there are several components to the bill, and several charges and taxes on top of that — and sometimes on top of the other taxes and charges.
To break it down the rates we have the following segments of your bill:
- BASIC CHARGE ($0.4065/day)
- DELIVERY CHARGE ($4.296/ GJ)
- STORAGE AND TRANSPORT ($0.758/ GJ)
- COST OF THE GAS ($1.549/GJ)
- MUNICIPAL OPERATING FEE (3.09% of all of the above)
- CARBON TAX ($1.7381 per GJ) – Note that this is more than the cost of the gas.
- CLEAN ENERGY LEVY (0.40% of all of the above except the CARBON TAX)
- GST (5% on everything above except the CLEAN ENERGY LEVY)
And here is my latest BC Hydro bill (representing two months).
The BC Hydro bill is slightly less cryptic to decipher, but we will still have to convert kWh to GJ to make the proper comparison.
The electricity bill breaks down as follows:
- BASIC CHARGE ($0.19560/day)
- STEP 1: 1,376kWh ($0.08840/kWh)
- STEP 2: EVERYTHING CONSUMED ABOVE 1,376 kWh ($0.13260/kWh)
- RATE RIDER (5% on all of the above)
- CUSTOMER CRISIS FUND CHARGE ($0.00820/day)
- GST (5% on all of the above)
A typical home in the southern interior will use 100 GJ (or 27,778kWh) of energy to heat for a year. Smaller homes and more efficient furnaces can improve on this number, as can global warming because of warmer winters. Bigger homes or poorly insulated homes will use more.
Assuming that you require 100 GJ of heat for your home for the year, your gas costs will be:
- DELIVERY CHARGE = $429.60
- STORAGE AND TRANSPORT = $75.80
- COST OF THE GAS = $154.90
- MUNICIPAL OPERATING FEE = $20.40
- CARBON TAX = $173.82
- CLEAN ENERGY LEVY = $2.64
- GST = $42.73
TOTAL = $899.89
Using traditional baseboard heaters, the same amount of energy would cost you over $4,000/year with BC Hydro.
- 27,778 kWh at $0.13260/kWh = $3,683.34
- RATE RIDER = $184.17
- GST = 193.38
TOTAL = $4,060.88
In both examples above the basic rate, customer crisis charge, and applicable taxes are ignored because because they represent the fixed cost of having an account. These costs are significantly higher for gas ($161.20) than for electricity ($81.85).
Heating with baseboard heaters is very expensive as you can see, which is why the only place in Canada that uses them as the primary heat source is Victoria where winters are very mild, but for the rest of the country it’s not something you would ever want.
Geothermal heating is how electric heat is used in the rest of the country, but then again it’s not very good if the temperature gets down near freezing unless your geothermal heat source is the ground. If you have an air unit outside, you do not want to run it below the point where you achieve 400% efficiency (where the coefficient of performance drops below 4). If you are thinking of installing an outdoor air heat pump, make sure you do it in conjunction with a gas furnace because your bills will be sky high during the cold winter months. The cross-over point is somewhere around 7°C where you would want to switch from electric to gas.